“So do you like, not have any friends?”
For some reason, some people seem to think solo travel equals being lonely and friendless. At this stage, I pity them as their lives are defined and limited to experiences they can have as long as they have someone to do it with them. I am not going to sit around and wait for someone else to be ready so I can live my life and experience the things I want to. and you shouldn’t either.
About 6 months ago, I decided to travel solo around Asia. Family, colleagues and friend’s faces flushed at my news, deploring my decision, pleading me to reconsider or do at least ‘with a friend’. They seemed to have a lot of assumptions about why solo travel doesn’t suit women. Here I provide the actual realities and benefits, so you’ll have something to base your decision on other than the panicked shrieks of your nearest and dearest…
Solo travel, for me, was amazing and I couldn’t even think of doing it again with someone or planning a future long term trip with someone else in tow.
Assumption: “You’ll be lonely.”
Reality: “I’ll be alone when I want it, with people when I want it. I’ll do what I want, when I want to”
Alone time is good for you – it’s healthy, and yes, women are more than capable of travelling solo without retreating home on the first available flight. You meet potential newbie homies all over the shop- some of them you’ll bond with instantly, other’s you’ll prefer to politely decline offers out from. Travel teaches you that you it’s okay to be alone sometimes without it being deemed embarrassing. I often declined meals out with people I really liked, just because I wanted an evening alone. If the group of people you’re with want to visit a temple and it’s not really your thing? Politely decline and do your own thing. It’s not rude, it doesn’t mean you’re unsociable, and it certainly doesn’t make you lonely. Exploring alone is awesome- when you want it. Exploring with friends is awesome too – when you want it. Travelling teaches you who you want to spend your time and that chilling alone is a darn sight better than hanging with people you don’t really like just for the sake of having company. I met so many incredible people while I was away and I may never have met them if I’d gone with a pal. I did exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it when I was away and fuck it if it’s selfish – I loved it.
Assumption: “It’s dangerous travelling alone as a woman.”
Reality: “There’s danger everywhere in the world – just because I’m a woman alone, doesn’t mean I’m anymore a target than when I’m home”
Not every solo traveller ends up a tragic headline, despite when channel four attempts to make out. As long as you’ve got good common sense, and a basic level of social skills, solo travel is no less dangerous than walking home at 3am in London. Your new hostel homies, if your trip is anything like mine, will also be with you to ensure you get home safely when you’ve had one too many Changs. Not every foreigner is out to murder you / mug you. Be smart and know the risks, but don’t let the worry of them define your trip. I jumped down a bloody 30 ft waterfall for Christ sake… But I did research the company to ensure they were insured and safe. It’s empowering realising you’ve successfully done your trip, alone and survived when the world is telling you can’t.
Assumption: “You’ll have noone to turn to when something goes wrong”
Reality: “There will be so many people willing to help when things go wrong.”
My faith in humanity grew ridiculously when I was away. Independence is great but when things go wrong, it is nice to have a pal on hand to help or to vent to. When I arrived at my hostel at midnight to find my bed had been given away, the hostel owner didn’t just turn me away – she checked me into her friends hotel at the same cost because she could see I was tired. When our coach broke down at the side of the road in Koh Samui for 4 hours without any shade, the whole coach teamed together to play games, share food and snacks and try to make the best of the situation. When you’re new pals wait for you to be ready to go home because they don’t want you to walk back to the hostel alone. These moment of vulnerability showed me that people are willing to help without having an ulterior motive – that humanity isn’t just simply made up from grumpy Londoners.
Assumption: “You’ll change and go all hippy and weird”
Reality: “I’ll change and grow and there’s nothing wrong with that”
Before I left, the idea of walking up to strangers and just starting a conversation was alien. When you’re travelling? It’s daily life and something I grew to love doing. When saying bye to my BFF, he said “if you come back all hippy and weird with dreadlocks, I’ll disown you.” (Sounds harsh but it’s mainly banter, dw.) I didn’t come back with dreadlocks, or spouting that INDIA CHANGED ME, but I did come back with a more positive attitude on life and people and despite seeming a bit “hippie,” I believe I’m a better person because of this new outlook. Travelling makes you self aware. It makes you realise that the bog standard resting bitch face you adopt on the train doesn’t get you anywhere any faster. I pushed my boundaries when I was away, and yes of course I changed, but I think it’s for the better. “You never grow within your comfort zone.” “People change, they grow. ”
Assumption: “But you can’t slum it”
Reality: “As long as I can sleep somewhere, I’m happy”
You don’t need blow dryers, private rooms or bubble baths when you’re backpacking. You’re hairs going to be dry in about 5 seconds anyway, it’s too hot to sit outside let alone in a bath and how are you going to make friends in a private room? I began getting this warmy fuzzy feeling of satisfaction every time I manage to locate a hostel for the same price as a meal deal from Tesco. (or Glamour magazine – £2 – yes it can be done!) As long as there’s a locker and something that helps move the humid air about, I’m down. Same goes for my dinner. I don’t give a shit where it’s cooked or by who, or where I’m going to sit to eat it – if it smells good, I want it. Slumming it queen.